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Journalists rebel in Guangzhou as right wing in China raises its voice

By Fred Goldstein

January 14, 2013

Those in China who advocate bourgeois democracy, deepening capitalist reforms and opening up further to imperialism staged a journalists’ rebellion the first week of January at the nationally circulated magazine Southern Weekend, based in Guangzhou. Guangzhou, which is across the bay from Hong Kong, is the capital of Guangdong province, the stronghold of capitalism in China.

The mini-rebellion took the form of a near strike and protest when the Propaganda Department of the Guangdong branch of the Chinese Communist Party intervened at the last minute to prevent a New Year’s editorial from going to press.

The editorial, which was severely modified by the authorities, was entitled “My Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism.” While the English translation has not been published in any of the  Western media, numerous sources reported it stressed “political reform.”

In the context of the present-day political struggle in China, “political reform” is code for creating openings for the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeois intelligentsia to organize politically, either through the governmental electoral process, within the party, or both.

In fact, one of the few practical applications of “political reform” took place in Guangdong on an experimental basis under the guidance of its previous “reform” leader, Wang Yan. Wang preached democracy — but the class orientation of his democracy was illustrated by an experimental local election he authorized in the city of Dudan in September 2011. Fewer than 7,000 local inhabitants were reportedly allowed to vote, while 60,000 sweatshop workers who had immigrated from other Chinese provinces were disenfranchised. (The Economist, Nov. 26, 2011)

The Southern Weekend, with a circulation of 1.6 million, has been a leading voice for bourgeois liberalism in China. The confrontation of the editors and sections of the staff with the CCP became a cause célèbre of the right. Demonstrations were organized for “democracy,” “freedom of the press” and political reform.

Protesters hail Tiananmen Square

This incident served as a message and a challenge from the right to the incoming leader of the CCP, Xi Jingping, who will become China’s president in March.

The capitalist media swung immediately behind the protest. The Financial Times  of Jan. 11 reported: “‘This feels exactly like the beginning of [the Tiananmen student movement in] 1989,’ said Yu Gang, a 44-year-old democracy campaigner who took part in the Tiananmen protests. He made pro-democracy speeches outside the Southern Weekend headquarters until police broke up the protest on Thursday.” A pro-Mao counter-demonstration also took place.

The right-wing blogosphere went into gear as well. A nationally known movie actor went one step beyond raising the 1989 counter-revolutionary uprising at Tiananman Square.  Yao Chen, who has the the country’s most-followed Twitter-like microblog, quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s saying that “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

The Financial Times continued, “Ms Yao sent the former Soviet dissident’s words with the logo of Southern Weekend, the paper respected as the vanguard of Chinese investigative journalism and for its probing stories but now involved in a rare open fight with censors. Her post marks a warning to China’s new leadership under Xi Jinping, the new Communist party chief who took over from Hu Jintao in November..” (Financial Times, Jan. 11, 2013)

Solzhenitsyn was a counter-revolutionary novelist in the USSR who depicted the tsar’s family in a sympathetic light in his book “1914.” Even war criminal Henry Kissinger once described him as “to the right of the czar.” He was jailed by Soviet authorities and eventually given a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. He is identified with the overthrow of socialism in the USSR.

Xi’s trip to Shenzen heartens the right

Following the protest, an open letter in defense of Southern Weekend and signed by 16 reactionary professors, authors and journalists from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan was addressed to the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee. It demanded the dismissal of the official they claimed was responsible for censorship.

The letter was a virtual manifesto which referred to the trip made by Xi to Shenzen in Guangdong province in December of last year — his first trip after being elected the new head of the CCP. The trip was a replica of one made by Deng Xiaoping in 1992 on his “southern tour” to promote the further opening up to capitalism and imperialism, under the slogan “opening up and reform.” That trip led to the rapid development of Guangdong province as an export/sweatshop center of China. On his recent trip, Xi laid a wreath dedicated to Deng and promised to pursue “reform” and “opening up.”

This trip undoubtedly strengthened the right and was probably partly responsible for the brazen challenge by the Southern Weekend group.

The China Media Project, based in Hong Kong, wrote on Jan. 7: “In China today, the lingering sense of rise and regeneration relies to a great extent on Guangdong. For Xi as for Deng before him, southern tours marked great events that began in Guangdong. The entire nation, and people both here at home and overseas, regards Guangdong as the most crucial touchstone of reform and opening. The power of this one province ripples across our whole country, and the contributions of Southern Weekly are an undeniable part of that.”

The manifesto ended with praise for the magazine as “one of the country’s top groups … closely connected with the current of reform and the spirit of opening up” and condemned the propaganda official, asking if he “did not harbor such hostility for reform and opening, would things have come to this point.”

But these mouthpieces for the bourgeoisie have things completely backwards. If the reactionaries of Southern Weekend were not so fervently dedicated to the deepening of  capitalism, widening imperialist penetration and promoting political openings for the bourgeoisie, if they had not made such a brazen move to test the Xi leadership, then would things ever “have come to this point”?

Challenge to Xi

Until now the magazine has harassed the government with exposures of abuses of workers, damage to the environment and official corruption. Thus, it has curried favor with the populace, using progressive exposures to foster its reactionary program of undermining the CCP from the right.

Because of the CCP’s policy of so-called “market socialism,” permitting capitalist development, violation of workers’ rights, corruption and the growth of the very capitalist class championed by Southern Weekend, the party is vulnerable to justifiable criticism. The right wing collects the grievances of the masses and uses them as a battering ram against the party.

But with the New Year’s message, the right wing went over the line. Southern Weekend has been under heavy censorship from party propaganda authorities because of its openly bourgeois liberalism. The magazine, according to most accounts, has been adept at pushing a right-wing line without making any major confrontational challenges to the party. But this time they upped the ante.

The right surfaced for the moment. The dispute spread to Beijing News. A web publication run by a party official was shut down for backing the right wing. A Confucian grouping issued a reactionary manifesto.

Bo Xilai and defeat of the Chongqing model

At this point it is necessary to put this struggle in the context of the suppression of Bo Xilai. Bo was the head of Chongqing province. The struggle against him was popularly regarded, on one level, as one between the Chongqing model and the Guangdong model.

Bo had promoted state economic development as the instrument for achieving the welfare of the masses. He built quality, low-cost housing for the workers. He increased social benefits. He made it easier for the rural population to obtain urban status and the benefits that come with that. He waged a campaign against the axis between corrupt party officials and capitalists with criminal elements.

Bo also promoted Maoist culture, songs and sayings, and shifted Chongqing television from a commercial station to a public station. This station was nationally broadcast and allowed an egalitarian message to get wide exposure, such as the message of “Red GDP” — development through state investment, rather than private investment, that gives greater priority to the welfare of the masses.

The Guangdong model, by contrast, emphasized economic development, mainly by capitalist means and relying on exports. The social rights of millions of immigrant workers from the interior of the country took a back seat. In general, the bourgeois spirit is dominant in the Guangdong model.

The detention of Bo last spring and vilification of the Chongqing model represented a defeat for the left within the framework of the party leadership. It represented a victory for the Guangdong model, the  model promoted by Southern Weekend and its bourgeois allies. The victory was achieved by a bloc of the center and the right. Now that the challenge from the left has been temporarily suppressed, the right wing has gained confidence and courage.

This is not to say that the Southern Weekend incident represents any serious immediate threat to the party. But it represents a future danger and has brought to the surface a thoroughly reactionary current that, despite its limited numbers, occupies strategic positions in the media, the universities, communications and, of course, business.

It should be noted that when Bo was detained and his spouse, Gu Kailai, put through a show trial, these forces made no defense of the democratic rights of these leaders.

Political contradictions of ‘market socialism’

There are many contradictions to so-called “market socialism” or “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” as it is euphemistically referred to by the leadership. The principal one, which is developing irresistibly, is the contradiction between economics and politics.

The mainstream of the top party leadership is trying to hold on to the socialist side of the economy: the state-owned enterprises, economic planning through “guidance,” and development and control of the commanding heights and strategic sectors of the economy. This is what has enabled the Chinese economy to weather the world capitalist crisis so far and continue its forward development. This is presumably the “socialist” side of the “socialist market economy.”

On the “market” side, the party has promoted the private sector, allowed private money to penetrate the public sector, and let the imperialists have a significant presence in the economy. It has let the rights of the working class that should be guaranteed under socialism go by the boards in the interest of economic development through capitalism, and has made many other economic concessions.

This has led to the growth of a capitalist class and the equally dangerous growth of a capitalist-minded petty bourgeois elite that is spread throughout the professions. This stratum provides mouthpieces for the bourgeoisie, promoting its ideology and its political interests.

As long as the CCP leadership promotes the capitalist market, which is diametrically opposed to socialism, the spirit of capitalism will continue to pervade society. It is in the very nature of the bourgeoisie, of capital, to expand. This not only manifests itself on the enterprise level as a desire to expand profits and accumulation. It also expresses itself on a class level, as a desire to expand its political influence commensurate with its economic development.

Both the state and the private sectors have grown in the last decade. Which has grown the stronger is a matter of dispute. But what is indisputable is the growth of the corporate and financial bourgeoisie.

In this latest dispute, one publication loyal to the party line warned the authorities at Southern Weekly that there is “no special political zone.” This refers to the special capitalist economic zones in Guangdong.

Here is where the problem lies. You cannot give the bourgeoisie more and more special economic zones without them demanding commensurate political influence. Marxists know that politics is concentrated economics. The economics of the bourgeoisie leads inevitably in the direction of trying to transform China’s political structure into a bourgeois political democracy.

Only a thoroughgoing return to proletarian democracy and the political, economic and social empowerment of the workers, as envisaged by Mao and his collaborators, can put an end to the political grasping by the bourgeoisie.

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UPDATED Jan 15, 2013 11:24 AM
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